Almost 2,500 residential properties in Warrington are empty in what has been labelled as a ‘disgrace’.
Following a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council confirmed there are currently 2,482 empty residential properties across the town, of which 1,438 have been empty for six months or more.
Local authorities were allowed to use empty dwelling management orders (EDMOs) to take over homes that had been empty for six months or more.
However, the council says EDMOs can now only be used where properties have been vacant for more than two years and there is evidence of vandalism or anti-social behaviour.
It is also excluded from taking action in certain circumstances, such as the owner being in a care home.
The authority confirmed it has not used any EDMOs for the properties that have been empty for six months or more.
Concerns have been mounting among councillors over the availability of housing in the borough.
And Manoj Patel, director at Hamlet Homes, which is based at Warrington Business Park, wants to see change.
He said: “It is a national disgrace that so many homes remain empty with little consequence for the owners, while at the same time we have a homelessness crisis in our country – and while bringing the empty homes stock onto the market won’t solve Warrington’s housing problem overnight, it will certainly go some way to alleviate the current dire shortage of affordable housing in our town.
“Hamlet Homes has for many years been attempting to contact owners of empty homes in Warrington, with a view to bringing these properties back onto the market for renters and first-time buyers alike with limited success.
“Owners of empty homes have to continue to pay their council tax and increased insurance costs but they could remove these liabilities by either selling or renting out their empty properties.
“There is also a reduced VAT scheme for renovation works when carried out on properties that have been empty for more than two years.”
Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, has raised concerns but did welcome Warrington’s record on bringing empty properties back into use.
He said: “When there are people on the waiting list, or homeless, empty properties are rightly seen as a disgrace.
“However, there will always be some properties that stay empty for some time with good reason.
“Warrington’s record on bringing empty properties back into use and minimising the number is good.
“We are in the lowest third of authorities for empty homes nationally and, among our nearest neighbours, only Halton do better than us.
“Nevertheless, bringing empty houses and flats into use must remain a high priority as should buying back homes from private landlords who are finding difficulty in letting or maintaining their properties.”
Council chiefs insist they work with owners to bring long-term empty properties back into use – an approach supported by a ‘range of enforcement methods’.
A spokesman added: “We bring back the majority of empty properties into use as quickly as possible so they do not stay empty.
“As of July 2018, there were 23 properties that had been empty for six years or longer in Warrington, which is equivalent to 0.02 per cent of the housing stock.
“To support enforcement action there is currently a 50 per cent premium, payable on top of standard council tax rates, for properties that have been unoccupied for two years or more.
“We will be carrying out a review of the empty home premium as a result of the Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Act 2018.”